10 ways to make Christmas magical

child delighted at Christmas

Whether it's decorating the tree or quests to find the best light displays, there are so many lovely ways to make the festive season magical for the kids (and for you). Mumsnet users share their age-old traditions and new plans for keeping the magic alive

1. Start early…

Kids under Christmas duvet

“My kids love the first of December (or the nearest Saturday). We put up the tree, decorate the house, bake Christmas things like mince pies. We listen to Christmas music, dance about like loons etc. It's such a lovely day and marks the start of the countdown to Xmas.”

“For years I've been doing an activity Advent calendar. Something different every day and the children love to see what it is in the morning. Some of the favourites are family board game evening, picnic under the Christmas tree and going to the zoo to wish all the animals a happy Christmas!”

“On the night before the first December of every year I make the bed with the Christmas sheets covered with DD's normal bedding. Once she’s asleep I do a bit of festive unwrapping of bedsheets and it’s like magic, she wakes up with covers to symbolise the start of Christmas.”

2. …And finish late (or not at all)

Boxing Day opening present

“We don't open all the presents on Christmas Day. Keep at least one 'big' present to open on Boxing Day so that you keep the magic going for longer.”

“My Christmas tree is up all year round with all the fairy lights too. I like it so much I don't see why I have to put it away!”

Related: Celebrating at your house this year? See our ultimate hosting Christmas checklist

3. Decorations are everything

Christmas decorations

“We have a family rule of buying a new decoration for Christmas each year and make sure to involve the children in it. This year's new decoration was bought from IKEA as it was something we'd never seen before.”

“All of us putting up and decorating the tree together is one of my favourite traditions – we all know our different roles/strengths (I am on untangling fairy lights, but my husband is in charge of putting them on the tree) and we mainly use the same decorations each year, so it's lovely to see the old favourites come down from the attic. Our four-year-old gets stuck in, and gets so excited when he realises that Christmas is coming.”

4. Bring Santa to life

Santa's coming Elf

“The highlight of Christmas morning is looking outside to see what damage the reindeer have wreaked in their quest for a carrot. We’ve had skid marks on the lawn, hoof prints on the windows, bells that fell off collars, and my prized rose bush eaten by Rudolph. Each year we have a lively discussion about where to put the carrot and what mischief might be averted if we can only work out the safest location.”

“Tracking Santa on NORAD. They love space so I want to encourage it as much as possible.”

Looking for somewhere to actually meet Santa? IKEA is hosting free nationwide events to do just that, such as Breakfast with Santa. Check out what's happening at your local store.

5. Begin new traditions…

Christmas pizza

“Our absolute favourite Christmas ritual is family gifts. We go to a nice city nearby and split into teams – one parent and one child on each. We then have half an hour to buy a present for the other parent from both kids, and for the boys from each other. Always the best presents, and lots of fun hiding from each other as we buy.”

“We tape wrapping paper over the front room door so that there can be no peeking when the kids get up, and then they have to wait for their brothers so they can all run through the paper together to get to their presents.”

“We always eschew traditional Christmas meals. It's not so much 'When do we order the turkey?' as 'What unusual meal shall we spend our money on this year?' It's the chance to cook something special, something different, but mainly as a family.”

Related: Taking part in Secret Santa? Mumsnet users recommend their fave budget buys

6. …And honour the old

Grandparents at Christmas

“My grandma had party poppers because she thought crackers didn’t give enough of a bang and the surprises were a bit naff. I do the same thing with my six-year-old and she loves it. Although now I’m the one preparing the meal, I’ve stopped aiming the party poppers to land in food.”

“The countdown really begins when I start on the candied peel and the whole house smells of orange and lemon and trays of it sit drying and crystalising around the house. Then I use the candied peel to make florentines and, as a rebellion from a childhood spent only being allowed one at a time, we eat as many as we want and bask in the decadence.”

7. Take inspiration from around the world

caga tió Christmas log

“We have a caga tió (Catalan Christmas 'poo log') – you hit him with a stick and if you've been good, he poops sweets and presents. If you've been bad, he poops herrings.”

“I had Ukrainian parents and we always celebrated on Christmas Eve with an evening meal of 12 traditional dishes, opening of the presents under the tree and then off to Midnight Mass.”

8. See the Christmas sights…

Christmas lights

“We walk around the local streets to enjoy Christmas light decorations. Our favourite is just white – simple yet magical.”

“Always try to make a local outdoor carol session. There are a few near us – some outside historic buildings with twinkly lights and lots of atmosphere, some with brass bands etc. Anyone can go and join in or just listen, and there's mulled wine and apple juice. A great antidote to Christmas shopping and all the pressure.”

“When people start putting decorations up outside their houses on our estate we get hot chocolate in travel mugs, wrap up in our winter gear and go for a Christmassy family walk. Sometimes the neighbours come out and we have a chat. We've made many friends over the years.”

9. …Or just curl up inside

Dog asleep at Christmas

“We totally lockdown over Christmas. Everyone gets a stash of holiday reading and chocolate, and then we just chillax for a week or so, read, watch telly, listen to music, eat and drink our favourite things, play board games, go for walks and talk. I'm happy for people to rock up and join us, but I totally refuse to go anywhere else or drive at all. It's a complete oasis of calm and relaxation in what are very busy lives for all of us. I've worried at times that the kids might find it a bit boring, but one of them told me last year that he thinks our Christmases are fantastic and his friends are all envious, so we must be doing something right!”

10. And, if in doubt, keep it simple

Simple Christmas decorations

“We like to keep things simple. Not too many decorations up other than a tree with white lights and traditional decorations (must be decorated with Christmas music playing). We also hang Christmas bunting, light candles and dress the table for a couple of weeks over Christmas.”

“In my opinion, being relaxed and just enjoying it is much more fun and less stressful than trying incredibly hard to reach an impossible Hollywood perfection.”

Make it easier for Christmas to be magical, with IKEA's winter range

As well as trademark Skandi-style tableware and decorations, IKEA also has an offer on Christmas trees: get a £20 voucher when you buy a real Christmas tree for £29

Read next: The best Advent calendars for kids